Cecina is a type of cured meat popular in countries like Spain and Mexico. Its appearance resembles that of a ham, although it is more thinly sliced and has a more reddish color, probably from the smoking or drying process. It is also said to have a stronger, saltier taste. This cured meat can be served on its own with a bowl of guacamole or sour cream as a sauce, or can be cooked as a primary ingredient in many dishes such as enchiladas and tacos.
The roots of cecina can be traced to a northwestern Spanish region called Castile and León, wherein the mountainous geography, dry climate, and abundance of wild game made it an ideal place to produce cured meat. There are some uncertainties, however, as to where the word “cecina” came from. Some sources cite “siccus” as the origin, a Latin word that means “dry,” while others point to the Celtic word “ciercina," translated as the “North wind.”
Different kinds of meat can be used to make cecina, the most common of which are horsemeat, beef, and pork. Bull, goat, and rabbit meat can also be used. Cecina can be cured in three possible methods: air-drying, sun-drying, or smoking, and it is not uncommon to use in combination two or all three of these methods. The process is often broken down into six steps, the first of which is the “perfilado,” or “sectioning,” where the meat is sliced thinly. In this first step, it is very important that a very sharp and thin knife is used to ensure that the meat slices are very thin and have smooth surfaces.
The second step is the “salado” or the salting stage, where huge amounts of salt are rubbed onto the meat and left in that way for a number of days to make sure that the meat absorbs the flavor from the salt. The salt also helps in “cooking” the meat. When the salt is already absorbed, the third step, “lavado” or washing, takes place to remove the excess salt from the meat. After the salt is washed off, the fourth step would be the “asentamiento” where the meat slices are hung out to be air-dried, probably for a couple of months.
The fifth step is the “ahumado,” which involves the smoking itself. Usually, the hung meat is contained in a room with windows that can be kept closed or open to maintain the ideal temperature in curing the cecina. Fragrant pieces of wood are smoked in the room for a number of weeks. The final step would be the “secado” or the drying and seasoning stage, where the meat is left to dry for many months. The whole process takes a long time, usually seven months. After the curing process, the cecina will feature a brown crust that is removed before the meat is sold or eaten.